Thursday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 40:16-21,34-38

Today is our final reading from Exodus. Tomorrow we will move on to the Book of Leviticus.

In passages immediately preceding today’s readings, God has been giving instructions on how his sanctuary is to be furnished and adorned. In today’s reading we see these instructions being implemented:

Moses did exactly as Yahweh had ordered him.

On the first day of the first month in the second year, the ‘Dwelling’ was erected by Moses. The ‘Dwelling’ is God’s special point of contact with his people. It is the precursor of the Temple which Solomon will build in Jerusalem at later date. It is a sanctuary on the move; one that accompanies Israel on its long journey to the Promised Land.

First, sockets, frames, crossbars and poles were set in place. The tent covering was put over the Dwelling and another covering for the Tent of Meeting over that. The Testimony was then put in the Ark, the shafts were positioned on the Ark and the mercy seat was put on top of the Ark. The Ark was then brought into the Dwelling and the screening curtain put in place, protecting the Ark of the Testimony from view, as the Lord had decreed.

Although not mentioned here, other furniture was also installed in accordance with the Lord’s instructions. The final piece to be set in place was a basin for ablutions. Before entering the Tent of Meeting or approaching the altar, both hands and feet had to be washed.

Once the work was complete, a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling. Even Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because of the cloud over it, indicating that the glory of God filled the Dwelling. While this seems to contradict what was said earlier, we need to remember that our text is built up from two different traditions.

From now on, at every stage of the Israelites’ journey, whenever the cloud lifted from the Dwelling, they could resume their march. They never moved as long as the cloud hovered over the Dwelling.

And Yahweh’s cloud stayed over the Dwelling during the day. At night fire could be seen in the cloud, for the whole House of Israel to see at every stage of their journey. The message was clear: As he had promised, Yahweh was with his people.

Religious buildings are just that – buildings. But, when properly used, they fulfil a very important and symbolic role in the life of any genuine Christian community. But they are never an end in themselves. It is the people who make the real Church.

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